Rise St. James files injunction seeking to halt construction of $9.4B Formosa Plastics plant

By: - July 15, 2020 5:30 am

Sharon Lavigne, pictured at left holding the bouquet of roses, founded the environmental justice group RISE St. James in 2018 in response to Formosa Plastics plan to build a $9.4B manufacturing plant in St. James Parish. In this photo from June 19, 2020, members of RISE St. James pray over the graves of formerly enslaved Black people. Formosa is planning to build its manufacturing complex there. (Photo courtesy Louisiana Bucket Brigade)

Rise St. James, a faith-based environmental justice group in St. James Parish took its fight against Formosa Plastics to Washington Tuesday by asking a federal judge in the District of Columbia to issue an injunction against the Taiwanese corporation’s plan to construct a $9.4 B, 1,500-acre plastics manufacturing complex.  The group alleges that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which allowed Formosa to proceed with its plans, did not adequately consider the environmental impact of the complex on a parish that already has two dozen plants and, instead,  “simply adopted the self-serving statements of Formosa Plastics—an entity a federal court found to be a ‘serial offender’ with ‘enormous’ violations of environmental laws.”

Sharon Lavigne, who started Rise St. James two years ago and who lives two miles from the site where Formosa plans to build, said in a Tuesday afternoon virtual press conference, “We’re already bombarded with a lot of industry. We’re already having trouble breathing…. We already can’t drink the water.”

Referring to the elevated rates of cancer and respiratory problems that have long plagued Black St. James residents and to COVID-19, which is believed to be even deadlier in areas with significant air pollution, Lavigne said, “People are dying. Formosa don’t care. They don’t care if we live or die.”

The Center for Biological Diversity a national, nonprofit conservation group, filed for an injunction  against the Corps and Formosa on behalf of Rise St. James and the environmental groups Louisiana Bucket Brigade and Healthy Gulf. Julie Teel Simmonds, an attorney at the center, said that in granting permits to Formosa, the Corps failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Rivers and Harbors Act.

“Army Corps did, frankly, a terrible job in their environmental assessment and in their determinations,” Teel Simmonds said Tuesday. “They really just wholesale relied on Formosa Plastic’s consultants’ reports, and they also deferred all the analysis to the state agencies, and that’s just not acceptable under federal law.”

Gene Pawlik, at the Corp’s Public Affairs Office said in an email Tuesday that “the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers does not comment on matters in litigation.” 

Janile Parks, director of community and government relations for Formosa, said in an email, “The motion is full of speculation and short on facts. It is without merit. The current limited and unintrusive preconstruction activities FG is conducting on The Sunshine Project property in St. James Parish are being done in a safe and environmentally protective manner. These limited activities do not justify the overly broad remedy plaintiffs seek to shut the whole project down. FG will strenuously oppose the filing. We expect the federal government also will oppose the injunction being sought.”

Parks said Formosa “continues to be transparent” and “is committed to the St. James community and to protecting the health and safety of its employees, the community and the environment.” 

Teel Simmonds said that Formosa, citing the COVID-19 pandemic,  suspended its construction activities in the spring, but, “Now they’ve started indicating that they’re ramping back up. And now we see activity that threatens (natural) resources that these laws are designed to protect.”

Lavigne scoffed at the claims that Formosa has made that they are and will be good neighbors. “They don’t have to breathe the air. They don’t live here.”  And she isn’t planning on Formosa’s plant being there either. “We as a people will stop Formosa,” Lavigne said. “Formosa will not build in St. James if we have anything to do with it.”

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Jarvis DeBerry
Jarvis DeBerry

Jarvis DeBerry, former editor of the Louisiana Illuminator, spent 22 years at The Times-Picayune (and later NOLA.com) as a crime and courts reporter, an editorial writer, columnist and deputy opinions editor. He was on the team of Times-Picayune journalists awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service after that team’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the deadly flood that followed. In addition to the shared Pulitzer, DeBerry has won awards from the Louisiana Bar Association for best trial coverage and awards from the New Orleans Press Club, the Louisiana/ Mississippi Associated Press and the National Association of Black Journalists for his columns. A collection of his Times-Picayune columns, “I Feel to Believe” was published by the University of New Orleans Press in September 2020.